By Bill Crawford
Pause near any City Hall or Courthouse, listen carefully, and you will hear the moaning and groaning. It comes from mayors, supervisors, and other public officials trying to balance next year’s budgets.
“Revenues for virtually every government entity in the country are stagnant or declining thanks to the recession,” asserted the Clarion-Ledger, “while the costs of health care, fuel and asphalt are going up.” Well, that’s a hefty claim, but it certainly seems true for Mississippi.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported “asphalt cost about $100 per ton last year; fifteen years ago it was about $33 per ton,” attributing the information to Tony Garrett, senior executive director of the Mississippi Asphalt Paving Association.
The Picayune Item reported “property values have fallen and a mill applied to the value of a home will generate less money.”
The Hattiesburg American quoted Petal Mayor Hal Marx saying, “This year our insurance rates and state retirement (PERS) went up.”
The consequences of all this have been various combinations of budget cuts, tax increases, and spending down reserves.
Madison County supervisors voted to raise taxes after cutting budgets “3 percent to 5 percent for the last several years,” according to Supervisor Paul Griffin as reported by the Clarion-Ledger. Rankin County supervisors voted to raise tax rates for the first time in 16 years.
Mayor George Schloegel proposed laying off 14 city workers and shuttering a fire station to balance Gulfport’s budget, but the City Council balked and chose to tap the city’s reserves. Others communities and counties have laid off workers and cut most non-personnel line items to the bone.
Citizens and some officials have begun to complain about declining services and/or increased taxes.
For example, the Picayune Item quoted Donna Knezevich telling supervisors, “Since 2004 Pearl River County has increased its tax revenue by 64 percent;” and Rance Bedwell saying, “I don’t want taxes raised.”
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal reported Tupelo council President Fred Pitts saying, “Our city streets are getting worse and worse.”
The Clarion-Ledger reported Madison resident Mary McLaurin saying, “I’m really upset that it comes down to raising employee pay by 3 percent and terminating employees and then raising taxes on the elderly.”
Folks, the likelihood is that the moaning and groaning will get worse, given the outlook for the economy.
The likelihood is that city and county officials will continue to do what they’ve always done in response – cut, tax, moan and groan.
And, the greatest likelihood is that those inside government will vigilantly avoid looking for new cost-cutting ways to do business… consolidating city and county administrative and/or law enforcement functions; forming multi-jurisdiction units for street and road repair, water and sewer services, and/or maintenance services; or actually merging cities and counties into single entities.
Bill Crawford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist from Meridian.